What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November 28, 2011 Issue

I crave thisness. My search for it in this week’s issue has been fruitless. Well, almost fruitless. I found a crumb, a little morsel of succulent thisness, in the last line of Rebecca Mead’s Talk story “Model Student,” where she says, “Gunn signed her name boldly across the blue shirtsleeve of the artist’s painting arm.” That’s it! That’s the only delectable detail in the entire issue. But I can’t complain. The last four New Yorkers were feasts. I’m still digesting them.

Sometimes, when the magazine’s fact pieces fail to impress, as is the case this week, I turn to the short story. The current issue features Alice Munro’s “Leaving Maverley.” It’s about a guy named Ray Elliot, who’s the night policeman in the small town of Maverley, his wife, Isabel, who’s seriously ill, and a young woman, Leah, who’s raised in a repressive, religious household in Maverley, and who’s life, from time to time, briefly intersects with Ray’s life. Of these three characters, Leah is the most interesting. Although described as “weirdly shy,” she elopes with a saxophone player, has an affair with a minister, divorces the sax player, loses custody of her two children, and, at the end of the story, is characterized by Munro as “an expert at losing.” When I read that, I immediately thought of Elizabeth Bishop’s great poem “One Art” (The New Yorker, April 26, 1976), which begins, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” It occurred to me for the first time that, in many ways, Bishop is like a Munro heroine, or, to put it the other way around, many of Munro’s heroines are like Bishop, and that the two writers have similar sensibilities. But to get back to “Leaving Maverley,” did anyone besides me find the final meeting between Ray and Leah a bit too coincidental? I felt the same way about Munro's “Axis” (The New Yorker, January 31, 2011). There were just too many damned coincidences. The story didn’t ring true, and neither does “Leaving Maverley.” Having said that, I also wish to note that Munro’s “The Turkey Season” (The New Yorker, December 29, 1980) is my choice for the best short story ever published in The New Yorker. Maybe someday, I’ll get around to posting a fuller appreciation of it.

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